How to Menu Plan on a Budget

While it can be challenging to menu plan on a budget, it can be done. If you have a tight grocery budget, you can’t afford not to menu plan. When you don’t know what’s for dinner, you will find yourself eating out or making multiple trips to the store and spending extra money.

If you’ve stumbled across this post it’s probably because you have a limited grocery budget, and need to learn how to cut back where you can.

I’ve shared my meal planning story many times, but years ago I found myself needing to cut back on spending and after taking a look at our family’s grocery budget I realized I could cut WAY back! I was shopping multiple times a week and never really had a plan.

How to menu plan on a budget

After I start to menu plan and shop the sales (and use a few coupons) I was able to cut our grocery budget in half!

How to menu plan on a budget

Print or look up your grocery store’s weekly ad. 

Every week, stores change their prices on hundreds of items and print flyers that usually arrive in your mailbox or the newspaper. You can find these store circulars online if you don’t want to go to the store each week just to grab the flier. (I highly recommend getting it online, why waste gas with an extra trip to the store.)

Usually these store circulars are found near the entrance or near check out. Even stores like Aldi and Walmart have them. Before you start menu planning for the week, pick up a copy of the ad for reference. Shopping sales is one of the best ways to save money on your menu plan, so you’ll want to have this handy.

For example, if your local grocery store has chicken breasts on sale that week, then add several chicken dishes to your menu plan. Since meat can be one of the biggest grocery budget busters, finding ways to save is a key component to menu plan on a budget.

Also, if you have a little extra money in the grocery budget, stock up on sale items that you know will last and you can use in a future menu plan.

Check for coupons.

Check online, in the newspaper, or ask friends and family for coupons. The best way to save on
your grocery shopping is by combining deals and coupons. Taking the extra time to check
around for coupons could save you hundreds of dollars per year! Once you have to store ad, be sure
to round up all your coupons so you can see if there are any great deal match-ups.

There are many blogs out there who do this for you, so save time and find a website that posts coupon match-ups every week.

Don’t forget that many stores now offer their own store coupons and coupons in their apps. These don’t even have to be cut, you just need to virtually clip them in the app and they are automatically deducted from your total.

Check to see what you already have in your freezer and pantry.

Smart shoppers shop their own kitchen before heading to the store.  Go through your fridge, freezer, and
pantry and write down everything you have. Using food you’ve already purchased will save you money (you aren’t throwing away rotten food) and time because you’ll have to buy less at the store.

Grab your free freezer and pantry inventory printables here.

Maybe you have a bag of rice in the pantry and some frozen beef in the freezer. Purchase some fresh or frozen vegetables and you have a full meal using up what you’ve already purchased.

Look at your store circular to see if you can combine what you have with something on sale to make a meal.

Write down your meals.

Once you know what you have, what’s on sale, and what coupons are available it’s time to meal plan. Start by looking at what match-ups. Are you able to make a meal from one of the match-ups of either what you have and what’s on sale, or what’s on sale and a coupon?

Need menu planning worksheets? Download our free resources here. 

You can even do all three!

Once you’ve exhausted the possibilities, search online. Can you find any recipes to make using the ingredients available to you through sales or what you have?

There are even websites that allow you to list ingredients and they search the web for recipes based on what you already have or what is on sale.

Often I had trouble coming up with meals my kids would actually eat. I ended up creating a list of “go-to” meals that I would pull from when I created my menu plan. I explain more about how I created a list of meals my family would eat here.

Keep your meals simple.

One of the best ways to keep your grocery budget low is to plan simple meals. Meatless meals are very inexpensive or consider mixing your meat with beans or rice to make it stretch.

Create meals that will yield leftovers that can be used for lunch for additional savings.

Can you use some of the leftover ingredients for breakfast? For example one might we might have tacos and the next morning we can use some of those ingredients for egg burritos.

Stay away from fancy meals with ingredients you will never use again. It’s easy to bust your budget by spending $5 on an spice or sauce that you will only use once. If you have children they probably prefer the simple meals anyway.

menu planning resources

When I learned to menu plan on a budget it dramatically changed our family’s finances. We were able to get out of debt and save hundreds of dollars every month (without using coupons!) just by creating a menu plan every week.

Not only did we save money, we ate healthier because we avoided those late minute trips through the drive-thru because I didn’t have a plan.

If you need to trim your family’s budget, start with menu planning. I promise you will save money and you will never wonder what’s for dinner again.

This post may contain a link to an affiliate. See my disclosure policy for more information.

How to Substitute Applesauce for Oil in Baking

how to substitute applesauce for oil

Substituting applesauce for oil is one of my favorite healthy baking tips. Applesauce is inexpensive to buy, easy to make, and healthier for you than oil. You can substitute applesauce for oil in cookies, muffins, cakes, brownies, basically any baked good.

Substituting applesauce for oil is very simple. The ratio is one to one (applesauce to oil) however most of the cookbooks I’ve read say that you shouldn’t use more than 1/4 a cup of applesauce as a substitute for oil. Using more can change the chemistry of a recipe and it could flop.

To keep that from happening, my suggestion is to start with 1/4 a cup and increase it incrementally if the recipe calls for more oil. For example, if a recipe calls for 1/2 a cup of oil, then the first time I make the recipe I will use 1/4 cup applesauce and 1/4 cup of oil. If the recipe is a success and I don’t notice a big difference in taste or texture, I’ll increase the applesauce by 1/8 a cup the next time I make it. If it works again I’ll substitute applesauce for the the entire amount of oil.

For some recipes, you can substitute the entire amount and for some only half the amount and it still results in a delicious outcome.  Either way, using applesauce instead of the entire amount of oil called for in a recipe will save on calories and fat without altering the taste.  An easy (and inexpensive) healthy baking tip!

baking pro tip

When making muffins use a cookie scoop to scoop muffins into the muffin tins. This will ensure that all your muffin tins are filled evenly and you have less mess on the outside of the tin to clean up when you are done!

Here are a few of our favorite muffin recipes that I personally substitute applesauce for oil:

Brown Sugar Cinnamon Muffins

(substitute 1/4 cup canola oil with 1/4 cup applesauce)

brown sugar cinnamon muffins

Simple Banana Muffins 

(substitute 1/4 cup oil with 1/4 cup applesauce)

Mocha Banana Muffins

(replace 1/2 cup canola oil with 1/2 cup applesauce)

mocha banana muffins

What is your favorite healthy substitute in recipes?

See more recipe ideas here.

This post may contain a link to an affiliate. See my disclosure policy for more information.

How to Make Dinner in 30 Minutes or Less

Do you struggle to come up with weekly dinner ideas every week? Is getting dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes (or even at all) one of your biggest challenges? Do you find yourself overspending at the grocery store because you don’t have a dinner plan? Are you spending your entire afternoon in the kitchen?

Have you ever noticed that when you go to a restaurant, it never seems to take as much time to
prepare your food as it would if you made meals at home? Restaurants have no choice but to plan, stay organized, and prep food ahead of time.

If they didn’t they wouldn’t stay in business.

How to get dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes

I’ve rarely waited more than 20 minutes at any restaurant for my dinner. Restaurants are great at getting food on the table quickly and efficiently.

If you want quick dinners on the table, do what restaurants do! Here’s what we can learn from restaurants to help get dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes and stay under budget.

Schedule time one day to prep your meals for the week.

My personal preference is doing meal prep on Sundays. It’s when I find myself catching up on other household chores, and Sundays are less hectic. In order to prepare my meals on Sunday, I need to menu plan and shop before I prep for the week.

5 simple ways to meal plan with kids

If you try to do everything on the same day, it will probably take all day and that’s overwhelming. Instead, focus on one day each week to meal plan, shop, and prep.

Meal prep can be as simple as cooking meat for the week, cutting up fruits and veggies, shredding cheese, or portioning out food for upcoming meals. It can be as involved as making some of the meals and freezing them for later in the week. ANYTHING you can do ahead of time will decrease the time it takes you to make dinner in the evening.

If you can’t set aside time one day a week to prep meals, try to prep meals first thing in the morning or during lunch if you have small children at home.

Your favorite restaurant has someone (or several people) who come in early every day to prep the food for the lunch or dinner crowd. When you order a dish at a restaurant everything that goes into that dish is usually ready to be cooked (or even cooked ahead of time). Prepping food before dinner is a huge time saver.

Clean out the fridge/ pantry.

Clean your fridge and pantry regularly to make sure you are throwing out expired items, food that is past it’s prime, and know what food you actually have to use in your weekly menu plan.

I’m sure many of us have started a recipe at 5pm only to realize that the main ingredient is expired. This can lead to a ruined recipe or a last minute trip to the store and money and time wasted.

I use a sharpie to label containers in the fridge that have been opened so we don’t accidentally eat something that has been in the fridge too long.

A restaurant with a dirty fridge or freezer that served expired food wouldn’t stay in business for long. 

Keep an inventory of your food.

If you are the type of person who never wastes food, congrats! For most of us, this is something that we need to keep a close eye on. A recent study showed that Americans throw away as much as half of their food every year! That’s like throwing money in the garbage.

Once your fridge, freezer, and pantry are clean and organized make an inventory of the food and ingredients you already have. This will not only help you get a better idea of what you already have in the house, but keep you from buying things you don’t need.

Keep a printout on your pantry and fridge of EVERYTHING you already have. Here’s a free pantry inventory sheet.

For my garage fridge/ freezer, I write directly on the outside of the freezer with a dry erase marker.

dry erase freezer inventory

Not only can you keep track of what is in your freezer, you can also keep track of any freezer meals you have available.

Keeping a pantry and freezer inventory will save you time when meal planning, because you already know what you have. It will save you time when you are making dinner because you know exactly where everything is and you know it hasn’t passed its expiration date. Remember as you use ingredients and eat freezer meals throughout the week, update the list.

One of the biggest budget busters is food that goes bad in the pantry or the fridge. If you know what you have available you are less likely to purchase items you don’t need and you’ll save money each month on your groceries.

Restaurants track food inventory closely so they aren’t throwing away large amounts of spoiled food. Restaurants already have to account for food waste when it comes to mistakes and leftovers, so they definitely don’t want to throw away food that sat on the shelf too long.

Stick with reliable recipes.

New and exciting dishes are fun, and I try to add at least one new recipe in our menu plan every month.
Sometimes the new recipes are a hit and sometimes my family politely asks me not to make that dish again.

If you are going through a busy or stressful season, stick with tried and true recipes you know your family likes to eat.

Make a meal plan cheat sheet of recipes you know your family loves and that you can rotate in when
you’re out of ideas. Don’t try to make something new every night! Instead, focus on old reliable
recipes for most nights, and maybe one new recipe in the mix.

When my kids were all very small I made a list of 20 of our favorite recipes that I knew the kids loved. When I made my menu plan each week, I picked from the list of 20 meals. With 20 meals on the list there were only a few repeats every month (when you account for leftovers and going out to dinner).

Most of our favorite recipes take less than 20 minutes to prepare. (No wonder they are my favorite!) Typically I don’t even need a recipe with our favorite meals which means I’m not going back and forth between a cookbook (or my phone screen) and actually making the food. Familiar recipes are almost always faster.

Even restaurants stick with their tried and true recipes they know the customer likes. While some restaurants offer nightly specials, most restaurants keep the same menu for several months at a time. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it!

These simple tips (borrowed from restaurants) will help you get dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes and save money on your groceries every week.

What’s your favorite tip for getting dinner on the table quickly?

This post may contain a link to an affiliate. See my disclosure policy for more information.

White Chocolate Candy Cane Donuts

Are you looking for a fun and festive breakfast idea this holiday season? One of my favorite holiday traditions is donuts on Christmas Eve morning. Some years we buy donuts but when I’m feeling ambitious the kids and I make homemade donuts.

Even though purchasing donuts is easier, I think homemade donuts taste SO MUCH BETTER! Plus, you can customize them to make your favorite flavors, and for additional fun (and maybe a little stress) have the kids help with make them.

These white chocolate candy cane donuts are SO pretty you almost don’t want to eat them!

white chocolate candy cane donuts

These white chocolate candy cane donuts use box cake mix and are fairly simple to make. They do require a donut pan. but pans are inexpensive last forever. (I’ve had mine for at least 10 years!)

If you like cake donuts (my favorite) then you will love the taste of these donuts.

In this donut recipe we used Krispy Kreme cake mix, but you can use any kind or flavor of cake mix in a baked donut recipe. One of my favorite cake donuts is the double chocolate (which could be made with chocolate cake mix and chocolate candy melts – yummm). But I digress.

Empty the cake mix into a mixing bowl and follow the directions on the box to prepare the donut batter.

I like to use a hand mixer when making cakes because if I use my stand mixer I tend to forget it is running and over mix the batter.

Mix the dry and wet ingredients according to the cake box directions. Don’t over mix. Did you know that if you over mix cake batter you get a more dense, chewy-er cake? Unless you like your donuts that way, make sure you follow the directions and don’t over mix. 

Spray your donut pan with nonstick spray.

Pour the batter into the donut pan, do not overfill. I pour my batter about 2/3 of the way full.

Bake the donuts for 12 minutes at 350 degrees.

While the donuts are baking crush your candy canes and begin to prepare your candy melts. Once the donuts are cooled, dip them in the melted chocolate and add the crushed candy canes to the top of the donuts.

   Ingredients

Directions

  • Mix together the cake mix, water, oil and eggs according to the cake mix box.
  • Spray the donut pan with cooking spray.
  • Pour the donut mix into a measuring cup for easy pouring. Pour the donut mix into the donut pan.
  • Bake for 12 minutes at 350 degrees.
  • Let cool.
  • Place the candy canes into a ziploc bag and crush with a rolling pan or the bottom of a glass cup.
  • Melt the white candy melts in microwave or with this Wilton Melting Pot.
  • Dip the top of the donuts in the white melts. Before the white melts harden, sprinkle the crushed candy canes on top.

This post may contain a link to an affiliate. See my disclosure policy for more information.